Friday dawned as the sunniest day of the week. I sat on my throne-stool in the Manly Garage this morning, gazing at a blank Google homepage, grateful that the posts have posted and I had about 2.5 hours all to myself. I pondered the weekend. A wedding reception (with church ceremony) on Saturday and a 4th of July family get-together on Sunday. All of this piled on top of 4 ten-hour days at work since last Monday. This completely disrupts my usual weekend routine. I decided to make the best of it and go for a visit to the beloved Morris Beer Store, hoping to squeeze in a brew review somewhere along the way over the weekend.
I was able to park in my usual spot (right up front in the fire lane) and shuffled in with last week’s Burning River printout in hand. I handed the report to the Handsome Young Guy who asked, “How was it?” And we talked.
I made my way to the craft beer shelf, uncertain as to when I’d have the time to give an appropriate brew review, knowing that the next two days are booked solid. I decided to do what I normally do and scan the shelves and choose.
I must have gone left-to-right twice when, on my third lap, I hovered in front of a couple of sixers of Stone Brewing’s beers. The devil in the label may have done something to my psyche and I was drawn closer. They had a beer that I had seen before but brushed off because of the sumer seasonals coming on board. The beer in question was Stone’s Levitation Ale. What a clever yet bizarre name for a beer. There must be a story behind that, I thought. I also remembered a comment from one of our readers: “Haven’t had a bad beer from Stone.” I was getting sold.
I checked the label. Once again, the labels were like screen printed on rather than pasted paper. The first thing that caught my eye was the printing on the neck: 2007 Gold Medal Winner, The Great American Beer Festival. On the back, though, was a rather lengthy dissertation:
Stone Levitation Ale: That’s Stone Levitation Ale. Not “alleviation”; not “divination”; and no, not “leviathan” either though these other oft-uttered permutations of this very special brew’s proper name may not be too far off the mark. First of all, let’s talk about what the word “levitation” means. One definition states that it means to rise in “apparent defiance of gravity”.** Yes, that’s a good one. Another perhaps more nuanced meaning is that this phenomenon is typically the “result of a supernatural power”. We’ll take that one too. After all, Stone Levitation Ale certainly defies the gravitational forces at work in much of the beer industry today-less character, less flavor, less creativity and as for any supernatural forces at work in this beer, well, we can only guess. (Though yeast pretty much qualifies in our book.) We do know that you will find more flavor and character than previously thought possible in a beer of such a modest (for Stone Brewing Co. anyway!) alcohol level (4.4%). It does, in this sense seem to indeed defy the laws of gravity and nature. There really is nothing unnatural at all about the beer itself, of course. It is made from the four all-natural, basic elements of craft beer: water, barley, hops and yeast. Cheers!
The front of the label had the tagged at 4.4% ABV. That would hopefully fit into the schedule if there was break some where this beer could be drunk, evaluated, opinionated and shared on the website. I picked up a sixer of Stone Levitation Ale and grimaced as I paid 11 dollars of hard-earned money for six beers.
Friday’s work schedule had us originally slated for another 10 hours. However, at our initial huddle meeting it was stated that we’ve gotten far enough along and that we may get out a little earlier than even 11 p.m. By 10:30 I was home, on the throne-stool in the garage ready to pour a nicely chilled beer called Levitation. Let us elevate our senses.
When poured, the beer had a really nice deep brown color to it. The bubbles were of varied sizes and speeds but there were a ton of them. A nice thick, creamy beige head of about 1 1/2 inches was the crowning glory of this beer show. The beer had a nice malty, almost sweet aroma with a tinge of a what smelled like a hop aroma. I wonder if we’re in for a surprise here.
The first sip hit. Rather thin but bursting with a nice grapefruit taste at the end. This will get better as time goes on, I’m sure. Let the sips continue. And they did.
It wasn’t long before the subtle malt flavors came forward and the thinness went away. A tad sweet at the front of the sip and a good middle let me know that the malts were there and doing their jobs. Right behind them rode in the hop boss with bullwhip cracking. “Whu-pah!” The tang of grapefruit hit at the end, completely taking my mind off the subtle malts that preceded it. The taste was akin to a county fair ride where the round and round gets supplanted by the sudden weightless drop at the end. A nice thrill. Can I go on again? Huh? Please?
I noticed that the second beer had a different bottle cap design than the first one had. I examined them all. Hmm. Six beers, three different cap designs. Nice.
I was trying to grasp with my own cerebral ganglions what the brewmaster had in mind when this recipe was realized. I would say that it was a cross or hybrid of a brown ale and a pale ale, all wrapped up in one. (Together, at the same time, blah, blah, blah.) The beer had the light malt taste of a pale ale, but dark malt look of a brown ale and the citrusy, and the hop zip of a pale ale. Each successive pour produced another eye-popping creamy head of foam and tantalizing aroma.
Let’s talk some numbers here. Serious beer drinkers like serious beer numbers. Levitation weighs in at a rather mild but respectable 4.4% ABV. This means that the beer would fit nicely into that group of beers called session beers, where, with proper stomach preparation and maintenance, the beer could be imbibed for long periods of time, possibly quite a few hours. In addition, Levitation is rated at 45 IBUs, a bit high for regular ales and more along the lines of a pale ale style of beer. The hops stand out over the malts in the overall taste of this beer.
The next evaluation step would be to determine which of the three varieties of hops (Columbus, Amarillo or Simcoe & Crystal) gives this beer that taste of grapefruit. My guess would be the Amarillo seeing as how the beer was dry-hopped with it. (Dry-hopping a beer is the additional dose of hops at the fermentation stage, above and beyond the flavoring hops and finishing hops of the boil, in order to add some hop aroma.) And is Simcoe & Crystal one hop or two? Waitaminnit. Crap. I seem to have gotten off the track here. Forgive me. Back to the beer at hand.
Stone’s Levitation Ale is quite a unique beer. It’s a beer full of surprises, from the pour – right to the swallow. A carnival ride indeed, without getting dizzy at all. Subtle sweetness and a light malty flavor, coupled with a citrus finger flick to the throat at the swallow, this beer is an all around treat. Not considered a summer beer (it’s brewed year-round) Levitation may look a little out of place out on the patio during a grill session, but bring on the platters of burgers, brats and hot dogs… this beer will fit in perfectly. For a lightweight tasting beginning with a heavyweight tasting finish, try this beer. It just may anti-grav your taste buds.
Taste: B+ > A citrusy ski jump right down the gullet.
Smoothness: B+ > A slide on an icy sidewalk with grass at the end.
Drinkability: A- > Oh yeah. Keep ‘em comin’.
Bang for the buck: C+ > A tad beyond the budget, but what the hell…
Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens